Palestinians ‘pained’ by momentous Israeli-UAE flight

PA prime minister, Hamas condemn trip to Abu Dhabi by Israeli and US officials for discussions on normalization deal

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh during a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 9, 2020. (Abbas Momani/Pool Photo via AP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh during a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 9, 2020. (Abbas Momani/Pool Photo via AP)

Palestinian officials on Monday condemned the first direct Israeli flight to Abu Dhabi, which brought American and Israeli officials to the UAE for talks following the normalization deal.

El Al flight 971 ferried senior officials from Washington and Jerusalem to the Emirati capital to flesh out the so-called Abraham Accord between Israel and the UAE, which was brokered by the US and announced earlier this month.

In another historic milestone, the flight by Israel’s national carrier was given permission to fly over Saudi Arabia. El Al painted a peace logo in Arabic, English and Hebrew on its plane, which, like many El Al aircraft, also features the name of an Israeli city or town — in this case, the city of Kiryat Gat, about an hour’s drive southwest of Jerusalem.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the direct flight between Israel and the UAE “a clear and shameful break with the Arab position” on normalizing relations with Israel.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner (C-R) and US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien (C-L) with members of the Israeli-American delegation in front of the El Al’s flight LY971, which will carry the delegation from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 31, 2020. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

“It was our hope to see an Emirati plane land in a liberated Jerusalem…It pains us to see an Israeli plane land in the United Arab Emirates, a plane which bears the name ‘Kiryat Gat,’ which was built on the village of al-Fallujah,” Shtayyeh said.

“We live in a difficult Arab time,” Shtayyeh concluded.

Senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat also condemned the delegation, which he accused of perpetuating apartheid.

“Peace is not made by denying Palestine’s right to exist and imposing an apartheid regime. Apartheid is what Netanyahu means by ‘peace for peace,'” Erekat said, in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the normalization agreement did not exchange “land for peace” as had long been the demanded formula for peace with Arab states.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien wave as they board an EL AL plane before their departure from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, seen at the Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A spokesperson for the Gaza-based terror group Hamas condemned the delegation as serving “the Zionist interest” in creating divisions in the region.

“This visit is tantamount to stabbing the Palestinian people in the back, a consecration of the occupation, a betrayal of the [Palestinian] people’s resistance, and a conspiracy against their struggle,” the terror group said in a statement.

Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to establish official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Gulf Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests and shared enmity toward Iran.

The normalization deal deeply angered the Palestinians, who maintain Israel-Arab ties must be conditioned on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Senior Palestinian officials in both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have yet to comment on Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow the Israeli-American delegation to use its airspace. The delegation’s plane even looped around the Saudi capital of Riyadh before crossing the border into the UAE.

The flyover has been widely called the first official Israeli flight to cross Saudi territory, although since 2018, Saudi authorities have permitted Air India to fly to Israel via its airspace.

While the Gulf country is widely believed to have close secret ties with the Jewish state, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud had told reporters in Berlin recently that there could be no normalization with Israel without a final status agreement with the Palestinians.

In an interview with The Times of Israel two weeks ago, Erekat brushed off concerns about Saudi Arabia normalizing with Israel and predicted that other Gulf States would not rush to follow in the UAE’s footsteps.

“The Gulf will never normalize with Israel. Saudi Arabia will never normalize with Israel. Saudi Arabia is the heart of the Arab and Islamic world. Saudi Arabia sees its security as emerging from within the Arab depth, rather than from outside forces,” Erekat told The Times of Israel.

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